Skip to content

New Ipsos MORI survey indicates that a majority (53%) of MPs do not think a doctor (in England or Wales) should be prosecuted for helping a terminally ill mentally competent adult patient to die when directly requested to do so by the patient.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, states that “there is an increasing alignment between the public and their representative’s views on a change in the law on assisted dying for the terminally ill.”

The House of Commons last voted on the issue of assisted dying for the terminally ill in 1997 when Joe Ashton MP’s Ten Minute Rule Bill[1], Doctor Assisted Dying, was defeated by 234 (72 per cent) votes to 89 (28 per cent).

Previous surveys of MPs have shown high levels of opposition to change in the law. A 1995 survey[2] found that 70% of MPs opposed the introduction of voluntary euthanasia, with opposition rising to 79% of MPs in 2004[3]. Such levels of opposition are at odds with public opinion, with polls consistently showing overwhelming public support for a change in the law.

An Ipsos MORI poll on behalf of Dignity in Dying in June found that 76% of adults across England and Wales, when made aware that it is illegal, do not think a family member or friend should be prosecuted for enabling or assisting a terminally ill but mentally competent adult to travel abroad to have an assisted death in a country where it is legal.[4]

In light of the continued campaign for a change in the law, Dignity in Dying commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct a new survey of MPs over the summer. 112 MPs, closely representative of the make-up of the House of Commons, responded. 53% said thatif a doctor in England or Wales helps a terminally ill, mentally competent adult patient to die when directly requested to do so, by the patient, the doctor should not be prosecuted.’

Commenting on the survey, Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying said:

“Whilst we must be careful about directly extrapolating from this survey, it does raise hopes that the campaign for a change in the law to give terminally ill, mentally competent adults the choice of an assisted death, which is overwhelmingly supported by the public, is now beginning to resonate with decision-makers in Westminster.

“Surveys of MP’s opinions when compared with public opinion polls indicated that MPs and the public are polls apart on this issue. However, this survey indicates that the gap may be narrowing, with over 50% of MPs taking part in the survey stating that a doctor should not be prosecuted for assisting a terminally ill, mentally competent adult to die, at the patient’s request. This almost doubles the proportion of MPs sympathetic to a change in the law when compared to the vote on Joe Ashton MP’s Bill in 1997. It renews our belief that is not a case of if the law will change but when. Whilst the questions asked across each of these surveys do differ, they provide an indication of change.

“Better alignment between the public’s and their representatives’ views is crucial. The Director of Public Prosecution’s interim guidelines on assisted suicide draw a distinction between malicious encouragement of suicide and compassionate assistance to die. For the first time giving formal recognition that in certain circumstances people should not be prosecuted for helping someone to die. But the factors counting against prosecution only apply to friends and family of the person who dies, not their health professionals. We still need to provide a safeguarded means of assisted dying for the terminally ill. But, only Parliament can do this by changing the law.”


For interviews or more information please contact Jo Cartwright on 0207 479 7737 or

For urgent out of hours requests please call 07725433025.

Further information:

The survey

This report presents the findings of the Summer 2009 study of Britain’s Members of Parliament, part of Ipsos MORI’s programme of regular multi-sponsored studies among key audiences.

Methodology details:

· Fieldwork dates: 8 June – 31 July 2009

· 112 MPs answered the Dignity in Dying questions (Labour 66, Conservative 29 and Others 17)

· Interviews were conducted face-to-face, and the total sample interviewed is closely representative of the House. Based on those asked each question, data has been individually weighted where necessary to reflect the true balance by party and ministerial or spokesperson position

The current law

· Assisting a suicide is a crime punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment in England and Wales

· Section 2 (1) of the 1961 Suicide Act states: A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years

· Section 2 (4) of the 1961 Suicide Act states: No proceedings shall be instituted for an offence under this section except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions

· To date no one who has accompanied a loved one to Dignitas has been prosecuted. However, people have been questioned by the Police and threatened with prosecution.

About Dignity in Dying

· Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care.

· Dignity in Dying has over 100,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.

[1] A Ten Minute Rule Bill, also known as Standing Order No. 23, is a procedure in the British Parliament for the introduction of Private Member’s Bills in addition to the 20 per session normally permissible.

[2] by the Harris Political Research Unit Parliamentary Panel on behalf of the House Magazine

[3] according to a survey by Communicate Research Parliamentary Panel on behalf of the Prolife Alliance

[4] A total of 879 English and Welsh adults were interviewed on Ipsos MORI’s face-to-face Omnibus survey between 5th and 11th June 2009. A quota sample was interviewed and survey data weighted to the known population profile at the analysis stage, These respondents were told that ‘at present, assisting somebody to commit suicide is a crime in England and Wales and punishable by up to 14 years in prison’.